Movie Review: The Terminal

Posted by Arlo on Jun 27, 2004 under Movie Reviews

The Terminal Movie PosterWhen I hear that Stephen Spielberg is directing a new movie, for some reason I automatically think it’ll fall into one of two categories: Action flicks (Indiana Jones, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Jaws, A.I.) or Fishing-for-Academy-Awards dramas (Schindler’s List, Empire of the Sun, Amistad). After seeing the Terminal, I’m reminded that he’s more frequently dipping into another category that’s difficult to ascribe a name. Let’s call it the Throwaway Story.

Calling The Terminal a throwaway story isn’t a bad review, it’s just my way of saying that the movie is simply about a bunch of stuff that happens. Apparently it’s loosely based on real life events just like Spielberg Throwaway Story: Catch Me If You Can. Tom Hanks, who was an FBI agent in the latter, now plays a very different character in Viktor Navorski, a citizen of the make-believe country of Krakozia. When his plane lands at JFK in New York, he discovers that his country has erupted in civil war, that the United States will not issue him a visa nor return him to his country, and that until his government is legitimately recognized, he will be unable to leave the “international transit lounge.”

It’s a testament to Steven Spielberg’s abilities as a director that he was able to perfectly pace a two-hour movie on such a thin premise. Although most of the group I saw the movie with complained about its length, I thought that he spent just enough time what he needed to: Viktor conquering the language barrier, Viktor figuring out the airport’s dynamics, Viktor meeting and making friends, falling in love, and finding a job.

For a Spielberg movie, though, I came away with a surprising number of nit-picks. I thought that the portrayal of Viktor’s comprehension level was a bit too high (admittedly, perhaps this bothers me only because I’ve taken the time to learn another language). Also, the head INS agent came across as a bit too harsh in his extreme dislike for Viktor, and yet he wouldn’t take advantage of certain opportunities to get rid of him.

On the plus side, I was pleasantly surprised to guess wrong on the reason for Viktor’s visit to the States and I commend Spielberg for shying away from a typical Hollywood ending with at least a couple of his relationships with his friends.

The Terminal is a nice, neat little movie. It’s funny in all the right places, makes you want to cry here and there, and even has a worthy villian to hate. Thankfully, it doesn’t make a Big Statement on life, culture, politics, or anything else, and I think its lack of a Message is what makes it charming. In the years to come, I’ll bet that The Terminal will be one of those movies that we’ll see over and over again on cable TV.

Trivial Thought: Has anyone else noticed Spielberg’s recent propensity for the extreme backlighting of characters? I wonder if it’s intentional. And that reminds me: What was up with that fountain?
What did I find worthwhile about the movie? It’s a study in cinematic pacing – not to mention set design and extras coordination on a massive scale!
Would I recommend the movie? Yes.
Will I buy it on DVD? Doubtful. It was a good movie, but probably won’t stand up to multiple viewings.

Overall Summer Movie Ranking
Shrek 2
The Day After Tomorrow
The Terminal
The Chronicles of Riddick
Van Helsing
The Stepford Wives